Twist of the Collar - Clerical Memoirs by Rev. L. E. A. Ehrmann


[p47] As the object of the publication of my memoirs was to benefit (as I hope) the above Society, it would seem right that an article should be written describing something of its history and work. It is one of the many instances which show the vitality that has come to the dear old Church of England by the power and influence of the Holy Spirit of God.

Quite recently Sir John Shaw remarked that he felt we did not make enough of the great man who founded the Society of which I have the honour to be a member, but which was then styled ‘The Society for the Employment of Additional Curates." This man was Joshua Watson, who lived from 1771-1855. He was born in London and was the son of a City merchant, so that he lived in rather wonderful times of the Church's history, for it included the Evangelical Revival as well as the Oxford Movement, to say nothing of the increase in the Episcopate and of Missions Overseas.

Mr. Clifton Kelway in his Centenary Article on the A.C.S. wrote "Nothing that affected the Church would seem to have lacked his constant interest and unfailing support. He has been truly described as one whose whole life was devoted from his youth up ‘to the pursuit of the best gifts. one who made it his deliberate choice in the prime of manhood to leave all other occupations that he might consecrate his entire energies to the undivided service of the Church of Christ, and who with equal zeal and constancy persevered in this holy employment to the end.'"

Such was the life of our founder, which surely is an inspiration for us all to try to follow, especially those who are workers for the A.C.S.

On July 12th, 1837, the first meeting was held in London under the chairmanship of Sir Robert H. Inglis, with Mr. Benjamin Harrison and Mr. Joshua Watson present, those three being the first Trustees. From the beginning, all along its history, three principles have guided the Society

(a) The needs of the Parish
(b) The rights of the Incumbent
(c) The authority of the Diocesan

The aims of the Society were welcomed by many prominent persons, viz., the Royal Family for the time being, the Archbishops and many Bishops, all of whom have given their patronage to this day. Grants began to be made to populous places in very early days. Mr. Kelway quoted in his Centenary Article the following. which gives us a glimpse of the state of the Church in 1838:-

"An incumbent in the Diocese of Durham with a population of 40,000 says frankly ‘Most of the people have never been in the habit of going to any place of worship, and the Socialists are endeavouring to raise a Chapel,' while in Yardley Wood, near [p 47] Birmingham it was stated that ‘most of the people have grown up in ignorance of all religion, and are unacquainted with the services of the Church.' The worthy vicar of one parish writes that his new A.C.S. Curate is ‘in every respect an able and zealous colleague, and is highly respected by the people.'"

The difference, indeed, between those days and now is that a hundred years ago the Church, for lack of manpower, was not able to reach the people, whereas now there is more organisation of Church work and more assistant clergy in many places, thanks to the A.C.S. and to be quite fair, the Church Pastoral Aid Society which does excellent work though on somewhat partisan lines.

The A.C.S. helps all parishes when the Bishop approves of a grant being made - it makes no difference whatever whether the particular Church is worked on Catholic, Evangelical or so called "central" lines. The A.C.S. is as broad as the Church herself. But, we must take into account the growth of the population all over England and Wales, as well as the rapid rise of new districts, so that once more in many places we find "history repeats itself" and we are up against the same difficulties that existed in 1838.

The only remedy for this is to staff our parishes to the utmost capacity. A large number of parishes are quite unable to pay for an assistant priest, besides in some places two or three curates are needed. The Diocesan Board of Finance usually makes a grant, but this is often inadequate, and here the A.C.S. is able to step in and make up the difference.

I always say "facts are better than fiction." in my case, I do not see how I could ever have gone to South Bermondsey had the A.C.S. not paid the whole of my stipend, and in my first parish, during part of the World War 1914-1918, two assistant priests became necessary, and again the A.C.S. helped with both.

I should like to give more information about the history of the Society, but space will not permit, or shall I say frankly that the cost of this publication must be kept down as far as possible in order that it may be sold at a reasonable price. A few statistics may be of service

Population in England ..... 13 millions in 1831 ... 25 ..... ,,...... 1881 ... 45 ......,,...... 1948

And the number of grants made by the Society is now about 620. 1 know the Council would like to make many more, and thus I hope that as a result of this chapter donations may come in, more laymen may offer their services for the sacred ministry, and more meetings may be held as well as sermons preached on behalf of the A.C.S. What strikes me so magnificently is that the A.C.S. is not purely a money-making concern, it is undoubtedly a Home Missionary Society - and all its work is based on Prayer.

We have, and I write as Hon. Diocesan Secretary for Canterbury. two excellent Speakers and Workers in the persons of the General [p 48] Secretary, the Rev. C. J. Read, who above all else is a great Evangelist-priest, and then there is Mrs. I. C. Tufnell, who has charge of the women's branch of the work. Her addresses are also excellent, and, to my knowledge, many parishes love to have her at their meetings. Then we have now an Assistant Secretary. Sir John Shaw, also an enthusiastic speaker.

It would not be fair in these days of large expenses and high cost of living to omit a reference to the economy which the staff of the Society are practising. There is no costly office for the General Secretary does all the work in his own home at 14, Rothamsted Avenue. Harpenden, Herts, which I had the privilege of visiting recently. Mrs Tufnell does likewise from her home in Kensington. Many other economies are also in contemplation.

I should like to have written more about the personnel in the past, of those Secretaries with whom I have been associated, as well as giving more news of the present activities of the Society. I must, therefore, close with three remarks :—-(1) Be a subscriber to Home Mission News, costing sixpence a year, which will give you up-to- date information; (2) Tell your friends about the A.C.S. ; and (3) let me add that the total amount promised for 1949 is £26,069.

The Society needs your help!

Remittances should be sent to 14, Rothamsted Avenue. Harpenden, Herts, quoting this book.


Almighty God, we humbly beseech Thee to bless with Thy continual help the Church in this our land. Guide and prosper every form of Home Mission work. Send forth more labourers into Thy vineyard. Convert the sinful, restore the fallen, enlighten the ignorant, comfort the sorrowful, succour the tempted, heal the sick, receive the dying, and in Thine own good time bring us all to be of one heart and one mind within the fold of Thy holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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